When I was growing up, my folks took home movies of us to remember fun events like birthday parties and holidays. It took effort to record the video, file away the cassette, and then bring it back out to watch at a later point. If you wanted to share your home videos with friends, you either needed to somehow make them a copy, or bribe them to come over with home-cooked treats before you sprung the videos on them.
Today? It’s all different. Parents are uploading clips of their kids to sites like YouTube and Vimeo at astronomical rates. Many of these videos have gone viral. We’ve all seen ones where a kid is rambling on nonsensically after being looped up on medicine from the dentist, or the one where a kid lip syncs to the hottest pop song of the moment. Many of these are cute, many are (in my opinion) annoying, and others just cause me to shake my head and ask, “What the hell were you thinking?”
The popularity of some of these viral videos leads some folks to intentionally create situations where they might get some hits. A friend posted a link to a Jimmy Kimmel clip that included a bunch of videos of parents pretending to eat their children’s Halloween candy. The result? Mostly unfunny, at least to me. The parents purposefully made their kids cry, filmed the entire thing (while laughing), and sent it in to be aired on a national television show.
Other TV shows, like Ellen, showcase the stars of musically minded viral videos so these kids have a shot at… what? Stardom? While I appreciate the desire to share talent (trust me, I do. I absolutely loved the father & daughter who performed Edward Sharpe’s “Home”) it only spurs thousands of other (less talented) videos that get mercilessly mocked by others.
Yes, the Internet makes it much easier to share our children’s most epically embarrassing and adorable moments, but it also functions as an archive for all of them. Even if you change your mind and delete a video, there is still the chance that it is out there, waiting to pop back up later in life. I wonder what will happen in five, ten, or fifteen years, when a lot of the “stars” of these kid-centric viral videos grow up. Will they simply roll their eyes, akin to an overeager mother showing off baby pictures of her precious teenager? Will they be horribly embarrassed that their parents shared awkward and potentially humiliating video clips of them with the world? Or will they love the fact that they had their few seconds of Internet infamy, and treat it as a nostalgic rite of passage?
We’re (not so) slowly creating a new social contract where oversharing has become de rigueur. Blame it on the popularity of reality TV or the easy access the Internet provides—either way, we’re currently at a place where a video of a mom intentionally terrifying her young son while he belts out Britney Spears has over 10 million hits on YouTube.
And I haven’t even touched on the videos where toddlers are shown singing and dancing in a sexualized manner as they mimic Beyoncé or Lady Gaga…
I guess my question with all of this is… How much is too much? How far is too far? What sort of cultural precedent is being set by (potentially) exploiting children for a few laughs? As parents watch other kids shoot into the celebrity sphere, and wish that for their own family, to what lengths will they go for viral notoriety?
*10 points for anyone who knows where my “Top That!” reference comes from.